Over my relatively short but jam-packed cycling career, I've been extremely fortunate to sample riding destinations around the world, from urban street racing in Mexico to skidding down vertical chutes in Andorra to flowing beautiful singletrack on the Teton Pass. I've centered my life around two wheels for many years, which has provided many unforgettable experiences.
But somehow, I've managed to blow past the quaint port town of Squamish every year during my annual Crankworx pilgrimage with starry eyes set on Whistler. Nestled at the north end of Howe Sound in British Columbia's Sea-to-Sky Corridor, Squamish has long been an iconic riding destination. With endless trails that sprout from every peak, creating a tangled playground of challenging riding, it's downright impressive I had never laid tires to dirt in the area.
Burdened with the guilt of continuously passing by trails others travel from far to experience, I jumped when the opportunity arose to ride with e*thirteen Product Manager and Squamish transplant Dennis Beare. With multiple e*thirteen reviews in the queue this Fall, I figured what better way to shakedown everything than on epic trails with someone who has had a part in their development.
After ten days of eye-rattling Whistler bike park laps and Crankworx nightlife festivities, the thought of escaping mountain biking's mecca to explore fresh trails was awfully appealing. Rolling up to Dennis' home, we wasted little time outfitting my Specialized Enduro with numerous e*thirteen components while discussing ride plans for the upcoming days and our history in the bike industry. Originally from Australia, Dennis came to Canada on vacation and basically never left (as many Aussies do). Over a decade later, he has worked for multiple brands, including B.C.-based Banshee Bikes and OneUp Components, before coming on board with e*thirteen. With a broad depth of knowledge across various aspects of mountain bike tech, it was insightful listening to Dennis talk about e*thirteen's approach to product development and how they strive to engineer solutions for current problems. Durability, affordability, and authenticity are power words in the marketing world, but e*thirteen has built a brand with products that uphold those pillars.
Speaking of products, what the hell was Dennis slapping on my bike? e*thirteen manufactures a lot of products, and over the years, we have covered most of them. Focusing on new and exciting components, my main priority was testing their new Grappler tire and updated LG1 wheels. Released in June, the Grappler is e*thirteen's latest tire model developed for the most aggressive riding applications (i.e., Squamish). Only offered in a 2.5-inch width, I choose to run the lighter, 120 TPI dual-ply Enduro casing with the extra grippy MoPo compound. Dennis kept reassuring me the traction provided by Squamish granite was unbelievable, and you could probably find traction with a semi-slick out back. But I knew better than to blindly trust a local.
Choosing which wheels to ride was an easy decision: LG1 Race Carbon Enduro. Essentially a slimmed-down version of e*thirteen's bulletproof LG1 Race Downhill wheels, the enduro model uses the same triple-sealed and machined hub but utilizes 28 spokes instead of 32. Chatting with Dennis, it's no secret that a few years of questionable OEM spec had tarnished riders' trust in e*thirteen wheels. Returning with an updated carbon layup and hookless rim design, plus a lifetime warranty, Dennis had an unwavering belief in their wheels, and I couldn't wait to apply a healthy dose of abuse to foster my opinion. For good measure, I also took a set of aluminum LG1 Plus Enduro wheels, so stay tuned for a long-term comparison in the near future.
With wheels and tires installed, Dennis kindly offered up some additional components. And what kind of monster would I be to say no to extra goodies? He set me up with a 12-speed Helix R cassette, Helix R chainring, LG1 Race Carbon cranks, and a trick three-piece stem. With multiple color options to help your bike stand out in the sea of modest modern frame colorways, I hoped to give my Enduro some personality with an Intergalactic scheme.
We've tested both the cassette and cranks in the past (see links) with excellent results. The LG1 cranks weigh less than 500 grams, are built to withstand hard-charging riding, and are compatible with all current chain lines. The Helix R cassette offers a whooping 556% range via 9-50T spread, is cross-compatible with SRAM or Shimano components, weighs and costs less than other high-end 12-speed cassettes, and is split into two, replaceable clusters. As someone who unapologetically frequents my granny gears on most climbs, the ability to swap the two largest cogs is a massive selling point.
With my bike decked out in lots of e*thirteen bling, I conducted some much-needed post-Whistler maintenance while Dennis finalized our riding plans for the next two days. Day one would consist of pedaling around the Diamond Head trail network. Day two would be a slab-heavy journey somewhere behind the Chief.
I want to lay out two disclaimers about my time in Squamish to save everyone some time in the comments. First, I know more than two days of riding is needed to gather worthwhile impressions of products. Long-term reviews of the Grappler tire and LG1 wheels are on the horizon. Second, many trails in Squamish are 'off-map,' and I'm not going to disclose the exact coordinates of where we rode. Squamish has plenty of legal trails worth visiting, thanks to their local cycling association, SORCA, which maintains and builds trails in the area. If you plan to visit and really want the local experience, I've historically gained the most insight on local trail knowledge by walking into bike shops with a good attitude and a 6-pack of beer.
Day 1 - Today, We Pedal!
For our first day of riding, I tried to blend my editorial duties with my intense urge to ride sick trails. So what better way to get familiar with the range and performance of the Helix R cassette than to pedal from Dennis' place to the trailhead? In hindsight, the heat wave filling the valley with hot, humid air all week should have been my warning that a long, adventurous ride would come with consequences.
After about 45 minutes cruise across town, we reached the Diamond Head parking lot where the main climb trail departs. As we began etching our way up the hillside, I was doing my usual over-analysis, trying to detect subtle differences caused by the new parts hung from my bike. With summer in full effect, the climb trail was bone dry, loose, and slippery. I immediately noticed the Grappler tire had no shortage of grip while the engagement on the e*thriteen hub was instant and solid. As for shifting, I had difficulty noticing any difference between the Helix R cassette and the SRAM cassette it replaced. And for me, no news is good news regarding drivetrain performance. Shifting between gears underload was smooth and crisp, and nothing made me question if the e*thirteen cassette was jiving with my SRAM chain or AXS derailleur.
The goal of the first climb was to top out in a clear cut and snap some scenic photos before linking a few trails together on our way back down. We transitioned from the snaking climb trail to a gradual dirt road, at which point I reached a core temperature that forced me to ditch my jersey. Disclaimer: I haven't climbed with my shirt off in years, and I'm still disappointed I let myself do it. But I was dripping sweat so fast that my top tube glistened, and I could almost ring out my grips. Dennis continued to maintain his calm demeanor despite the 90-degree temps and 100% humidity, and at a fork in the road, he asked if I wanted to take a more direct route. Sure, why not.
Slowly the gradual road morphed into a comically steep wall, and I quickly went from climbing to walking. My Garmin said the half-mile punch ranged from a 14-30% grade, but all I know for sure was is calves yelled at me the whole way up.
With the first climb behind us, the middle part of the ride was riddled with ripping single track that diced between trees and used the natural curves of the hillside to form small jumps and berms. Even though the dusty conditions felt similar to riding at home in San Diego, and I couldn't find any of that elusive loam I'm always promised up north, I had a sh*t-eating grin the whole time. Like many industry people I cross paths with, Dennis is no slouch on two wheels. Keeping up as we flew down steep and rowdy trails was both blissful and life-threatening.
We dropped around 1,200 ft (365m) and caught the final minutes of the infamous Half Nelson trail before embarking on a rooty and rocky climb. At this point, we were about three and a half hours into our ride(stopping and taking photos takes an impressive amount of time). As began creeping up the climb, my mindset quickly shifted into conservation mode. I had sucked my hydration pack and water bottle dry and consumed my two measly power bars. We reached our second summit about 40 minutes later, and for the first time that day, I heard Dennis mention something about being a tad tired. I could be wrong.
The second descent embodied everything I envisioned riding in Squamish to be. There was an awesome mix of steep, technical slabs that challenged my abilities, plus rough, rocky singletrack with an unmatched natural flow.
Towards the bottom of the trail, we shot photos on a long slab that faded into probably a 50 ft drop. The exposure did wonders for my fading focus and made me appreciate how gnarly Squamish can be, especially considering what we had ridden was relatively tame for the area.
Popping out at the bottom after over five hours on the bike, we headed straight for the river with beers in hand. I barely got my shoes and socks off before diving straight into the snow-melt-fed river. I then drank a beer in approximately three gulps, setting a new personal record. For how depleted I felt, primarily due to the heat and lack of hydration, I was surprised our ride equated to only 21.6 miles, 2,247 ft climbed, and 3 hours of moving time. Regardless of the numbers, day one in Squamish lived up to my expectations, with plenty of moments that tested my technical abilities, a few breathtaking views, and lots of swinging off the back down world-class trails.
Day 2 - Slab Hunters
The goal for day two was simple: ride some slabs. Squamish has become highly recognizable thanks to the endless black and grey granite slabs that litter the mountainsides. If you aren't familiar, take a moment to scroll through Yoann Barelli or Rémy Métailler Instagram, and you'll understand what I'm talking about. Joining us for the day was e*thirteen athlete and professional freerider Cami Nogueira. If riding with Dennis didn't already keep me on my toes, I had no business trying to follow Cami. She had just finished participating in Yoann's 'Tour de Gnar,' and listening to her describe some of the features she rode scared the sh*t out of me.
Instead of climbing, my legs were spared, and we shuttled to a zone surrounded by massive granite walls. Standing atop the first trail, I wondered how we would even make it to the bottom without rappelling down a vertical face. Right from the get-go, we took off on a sliver of granite surrounded by dried moss, and I got to experience first-hand the traction Dennis had attempted to describe days before. The Grappler tire in the sticky MoPo compound was definitely hooking up, but I'd argue I could have come to a stop with gravel tires.
Leaning over and traversing across the rock felt like my bike was glued to the ground, and my tires sounded like they were made of tiny suction cups. I've ridden rocks in Sedona, Virgin, and plenty of other spots around the world, but nothing comes close to the traction and confidence provided by the granite in Squamish.
The top half of the trail consisted of one constant slab with shelves and varying pitches that allowed the trail to weave down to the bottom. In some spots, the exposure was ridiculous. Even though traction was endless and the trail was pretty easy, looking down at a void in the landscape with nothing but air below was unsettling.
Right before we exited the long slab and dove back into the woods, I overestimated my speed trying to keep up with Dennis and Cami and slide out. I was fine but quickly learned that the gritty granite that offers endless traction also doubles as a cheese grader on your body when you go down. I'll remember that next time.
Satisfied I finally got to ride slabs in Squamish, Dennis decided to take us to a flatter trail that followed the rim of a large granite cliff. With a similar landscape to that of Gooseberry Mesa in Virgin, Utah, the snaking trail was filled with skatepark-esque features that could be ridden from multiple angles. The views from the mesa overlooking the back of the Chief and the water below were stunning, and I enjoyed the intermission from steep, gnarly terrain.
Closing out the day, we descended an epic ribbon of trail back to the valley below. The soil on this trail was much deeper and softer than anything we rode the day prior, and I was having the time of my life. There were natural doubles galore that smoothed out rough straightaways and steep, dug-in corners with endless hold and support.
At one point, the trail skirted the side of a rock wall before dropping down a short, steep chute. I rode what I would call the 'B' line and felt plenty proud for surviving. Cami insisted she go back and ride the taller, narrower, and way sketchier drop-in, which she did with ease. It's crazy watching the poise of top riders, and it was a blast spending the day chasing her rear wheel.
We wrapped up the day with a few cold drinks and chatted about the trails and zones I need to check out the next time I'm in town. I then packed my sweaty gear and tired bike into my van, and after more than two weeks of riding and camping, I finally began my trek south to San Diego. And now, I can say I've officially ridden Squamish.
48 hours is never long enough to fully experience a new place, and I definitely left Squamish having barely scratched the surface. But that only means there is a reason to return, stay longer and ride more. The riding easily lived up to all the hype I've heard for years, and I now have a new gauge for what steep, gnarly, and challenging truly mean. Thank you, Dennis, Carrie, and Craig, for hosting and facilitating this trip! It's reassuring knowing e*thirteen products not only have to survive Squamish before hitting the shelves but also the wrath of such a fast product manager.
Hopefully, everyone enjoyed something different from our usual first-impression reviews, and stay tuned for a long-term Grappler tire review and wheel comparison piece in the next few weeks to satisfy your technical fix.
For more information on e*thirteen components, please visit www.ethirteen.com
Photos by Dan Locks